New Blu-Ray Releases: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi,' 2017's Surprise Blockbuster, And A Horror Cult Classic

(Welcome to Not Dead Yet, a feature dedicated to new Blu-ray releases and what special features you should be excited about. Because yes, some of us still like to own physical copies of our movies.)

Hello, physical media fans. This week sees a big Blu-ray release: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Below, I delve into nearly every special feature contained on the Blu, from making-of featurettes to deleted scenes. In addition to the Last Jedi Blu-ray review, you'll get a look at new Blu-ray releases for Jumanji: Welcome to the JungleBehind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and this year's Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water

Here are the new Blu-ray releases and their special features you should check out this week, and beyond.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi 

Time will be extremely kind to Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. After J.J. Abrams revived the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens, there were several possible directions the franchise could go. Johnson, inexplicably, decided to go in a completely opposite direction than many people expected. Understandably, this caught fans completely off-guard – for better or worse. But the sheer unexpectedness of The Last Jedi is part of its strength. Rather than take the easy way out, and tell a story easily predicted by fan theories, Johnson opted to tell a complex story about failure, disappointment, and hope.

Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker has become a bitter husk of a man – he shuns the galaxy, and wants no part of the Resistance. This comes as of much of a shock to Daisy Ridley's Rey as it does to the audience. Rey (and the fans) have a pre-conceived notion of Luke as a hero. "What did you think?" Luke asks. "You think I'm gonna walk out with a laser sword and take down the whole First Order?" There's a cheekiness to this line – because by the film's end, that's exactly what Luke does.

Sort of.

Enough has been written about The Last Jedi at this point. I myself devoted thousands of words to an in-depth spoiler review, where I said, "Rian Johnson takes the saga to exciting, unexpected new places, and shows audiences that filmmaking within a big studio franchise need not be constricted, or travel down mundane paths." So let me just mention a few choice elements that will continue to stay with me; that will continue to make me cherish this film.

  • Rey, someone who has spent her entire life on a dry, desert planet, taking a moment to catch the rain falling of the Millennium Falcon, a smile on her face.
  • Laura Dern's Holdo and her parting words to Leia: "May the Force be with you, always."
  • Kelly Marie Tran's Rose, and the earnest, bitter way she delivers the line, "I wish I could put my fist through this whole lousy beautiful town."
  • Comic relief Hux!
  • That red throne room fight – the best fight scene in the history of the franchise, like a fever dream hybrid of Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and David Cronenberg.
  • Snoke's suddenly, shocking, highly satisfying death.
  • Yoda giggling like a complete asshole after he sets the sacred library tree on fire.
  • Porgs. Glorious Porgs.

The Last Jedi: Peace and Purpose

The Last Jedi: The New Walker

The Last Jedi: World of White and Red

Special Features To Note:

The Last Jedi Blu-ray is packed with features, and almost all of them are a delight. The cream of the crop is the feature-length documentary The Director and the Jedi. In this very in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the film, we're treated to a look at nearly every facet of the production. There's footage of Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill rehearsing. There are several sections devoted to how much practical effects work was created for the film. There's a tearful goodbye to Carrie Fisher. Most of all, though, there's Rian Johnson, front-and-center. Johnson has received a lot of harsh online criticism from "fans", but watching just a few minutes of The Director and the Jedi confirms how silly that is. It's clear that Johnson loves this franchise, and was very committed to creating the best film he possibly could.

There are moments here where Johnson walks us through the more "controversial" elements of the film. He explains that it makes sense that Luke would throw away the lightsaber at the beginning of the film, because the whole reason he went to the island is to run away; he's not going to instantly fire it up and say "Let's go!" Johnson also talks about how disappointment is part of the story itself – how in our lives, we often expect certain people to live up to our expectations, and sometimes they don't live up to them. He also mentions how Rose was written as a character who seems like she shouldn't belong in a Star Wars film. So if you thought she seemed out of place – that was the point, folks. And that's what's so interesting about the character. There's a lot to love in this doc, but my personal favorite moment was a quick shot of a real dog running around wearing a crystal fox costume. Johnson and company briefly considered using real pups in costume to play those creatures before settling on CGI.

Beyond The Director and the Jedi, there's a featurette called "Balance of the Force", which features Johnson explaining his reasoning behind The Last Jedi's story. "The Force is not a superpower," Johnson says. He wanted the film to be a bit of a re-set lesson, especially for kids coming to these movies for the first time. The filmmaker goes on to talks about Luke in exile, saying the most selfless act for Luke can do is ignore the calls of help from his friends and lock himself off.

Johnson also says he feels that if Rey was told she was related to someone famous, it would be the "easiest thing" – it would instantly define her place in the universe. The more interesting answer is to learn she's no one, and for her to have to find out who she is for herself. Johnson also explains the film's iconic final shot of the stable boy on Canto Bight. As the director tells it, the ending scene proves that Luke hasn't just saved a few dozen people in the resistance – he's relit the spark of hope in the galaxy, and the story is spreading.

There are also several scene breakdowns that walk you through scenes from conception (i.e. concept art) to realization. A particularly fun feature is "Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)", which provides a look at Andy Serkis' motion-capture work for Snoke before the digital effects are in place. I'd honestly like to watch an entire cut of the movie like this, because even in a mo-cap suit, Serkis' performance is riveting.

last jedi concept

Then, of course, there are the deleted scenes. The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars film to date, but it was almost longer before Johnson trimmed some scenes. Thankfully, if you were curious about what was cut, it's here! Here's a quick and dirty breakdown of the Last Jedi deleted scenes.

  • An Alternate opening: instead of opening with the big space battle, we open with John Boyega's Finn waking up from his coma. 
  • A quick scene with Rose's sister Paige, where her guns jam during the opening battle.
  • Luke and Rey argue about Luke returning to help the Resistance. Luke says no, goes back into his hut, and mourns the loss of Han. There's then a wonderful match-cut of Luke looking down in sorrow to Leia looking down in sorrow millions of miles across the galaxy.
  • A scene between Finn and Poe, with Poe updating Finn on what happened while he was unconscious. He gives Finn his old jacket, and reveals he sewed it for him (because they're space boyfriends, and everyone knows it).
  • BB-8 shows Finn a recording from The Force Awakens of Rey saying "We'll see each other again" to an unconscious Finn. Finn says to BB, "Okay that was kind of weird that you recorded that, but thank you."
  • An additional scene where the Ahch-To caretakers (AKA the Fish Nuns) give Rey the stink-eye.
  • Luke's "third lesson" sequence. Luke tells Rey that a raiding party is attacking the caretakers, and says a "true Jedi" would do nothing, adding: "Only act when you can maintain balance." Rey ignores this, and runs off to help anyway. This results in the bad ass shot from the trailer of her running with her lightsaber fired up. Rey eventually breaks through a door only to discover the caretakers are actually having a big party. Luke catches up with her, and, laughing, tells her this was the lesson – that the resistance needs her, not him, some old husk. Rey is upset, saying she was wrong for believing in Luke.
  • Additional scenes of Finn and Rose's big Fathier-riding escape from Canto Bight, including a scene featuring a weird, nude alien played by Warwick Davis.
  • An additional scene with Finn, DJ and Rose in uniform trying to infiltrate the First Order. Finn adjusts their uniforms so they look just right. They get paranoid that someone is noticing them and board an elevator, which backfires when a bunch of stormtroopers get on the elevator as well. One of the stormtroopers (played Tom Hardy!) recognizes Finn. Things get tense for a moment, until it's revealed that the stormtrooper simply thinks Finn got a promotion. Apparently, rather than admit one of their own defected to the Resistance, the First Order made up an elaborate story about Finn being promoted to a higher rank.
  • After DJ's big betrayal scene,  Rose drops her necklace. Hux picks it up and taunts Rose, saying: "You vermin may draw a little blood with a bite now and then, but we will always win." In retaliation, Rose bites his hand.
  • An alternate (and better) death scene for Captain Phasma (watch it here!)
  • A quick scene with Finn and Rose aboard a ship.
  • An even quicker, jokier scene where Rey, flying the Falcon, sees the First Order firing upon the armored base door on Crait. "Let's go around back," she tells Chewie.
  • A lengthy compendium of shots showing off more aliens and sets from Canto Bight.

Special Features Include:

  • The Director and the Jedi – Go deep behind the scenes with writer-director Rian Johnson on an intimate and personal journey through the production of the movie—and experience what it's like to helm a global franchise and cultural phenomenon.
  • Balance of the Force - Explore the mythology of the Force and why Rian Johnson chose to interpret its role in such a unique way.
  • Scene Breakdowns
  • Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle – Get a close-up look at the epic space battle, from the sounds that help propel the action, through the practical and visual effects, to the characters who bring it all to life.
  • Snoke and Mirrors – Motion capture and Star Wars collide as the filmmakers take us through the detailed process of creating the movie's malevolent master villain.
  • Showdown on Crait – Break down everything that went into creating the stunning world seen in the movie's final confrontation, including the interplay between real-word locations and visual effects, reimagining the walkers, designing the crystal foxes, and much more.
  • Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) – Writer-director Rian Johnson presents two exclusive sequences from the movie featuring Andy Serkis' riveting, raw on-set performance before his digital makeover into Snoke.
  • Deleted Scenes – With an introduction and optional commentary by writer-director Rian Johnson.
  • Audio Commentary – View the movie with in-depth feature audio commentary by writer-director Rian Johnson.

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon

What do horror movie slashers do in their downtime? How do they get ready for their next big kill? These questions, and more, are at the center of Scott Glosserman's clever horror-comedy Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Leslie Vernon (a very funny, very game Nathan Baesel) is a possibly undead but surprisingly good-natured would-be-serial-killer. He's preparing to slaughter a new group of horny teens, and he's allowed a documentary crew, lead by Taylor (Angela Goethals), to follow him around as he gets ready for the big night.

Behind the Mask is set in a world where the events of films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street really happened, and half the fun of the film is watching the ways the characters treat these slasher movie classics as real-life study guides. The faux documentary angle doesn't always work, and at one point, director Glosserman abandons it entirely to tell a traditional narrative. Still, minor flaws aside, Behind the Mask is a delight for horror movie fans. It's also loaded with cameos, including Friday the 13th's Kane Hodder and A Nightmare on Elm Street's Robert Englund, playing a slasher hunter a la Donald Pleasence in Halloween.

Special Features To Note:

This is a surprisingly light Blu-ray from the good folks at Scream Factory, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Often, Scream/Shout will pack their Blus with meandering interviews. Behind the Mask, in contrast, is pretty cut and dry. We get a series of interviews with actors Angela Goethals and Ben Pace, and co-writer/co-producer David Stieve discussing the production. Stieve talks about how, before he wrote the film, he was insecure about his choice to move to Hollywood to be a screenwriter. One night, while wallowing in self-doubt, Halloween was on TV, and Stieve thought: "I wonder if Michael Myers ever doubted his career choices?" From there, the idea began to take shape, and eventually formed the basis for the script.

Stieve also says he occasionally wanted the film to be to be darker and more serious than it ultimately became, but director Scott Glosserman convinced him things would work better with more comedy. One side-note about the interviews: they sound as if they were recorded at a convention, with a gaggle of people talking in the background. It can be a bit distracting.

Special Features Include:

  • NEW HD Master From The 2K Intermediate
  • NEW Joys And Curses – Interviews With Actors Angela Goethals, Ben Pace, And Co-writer/Co-producer David Stieve
  • NEW Before The Mask: The Comic Book – An Interview With Comic Book Artist Nathan Thomas Milliner
  • Audio Commentary With Co-writer/Director Scott Glosserman, Moderated By Filmmakers Adam Green And Joe Lynch
  • Audio Commentary With Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Britain Spelling, And Ben Pace
  • The Making Of Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon Featurette
  • The Casting Of Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon Featurette
  • Deleted And Extended Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 

Friends and colleagues had repeatedly told me that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the sequel/reboot to 1995's Jumanji, was surprisingly good. I refused to believe them. "There's no way that movie is good," I stubbornly declared. Then I watched it on Blu-ray. And guess what? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good, folks. As far as big, dumb comedies go, Welcome to the Jungle is full of clever ideas, frequently funny jokes, and well-acted scenes. It's about 30 minutes too long, but other than that, I was shocked at how much I liked this.

A group of four high school misfits get sucked into a video game and find themselves transformed into Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan. Hilarity and adventure follows. Everyone is very good here, but it's Black who steals the show. Black's video avatar character has a superficial teen girl stuck inside, and Jumanji racks up a surprisingly amount of laughs from having Black run around acting like a teen girl. There's a legnthy sequence where Black tries to teach Gillan's shy, awkward character how to flirt, and it's so damn funny that it had me in stitches.

Special Features To Note:

Not a whole lot to write home about here. The special features on the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Blu-ray are a bit boiler-plate, with interviews with the cast effusively praising one another. A making-of featurette covers the bare bones of the production – sets, costumes, casting, special effects. One interesting takeaway from this behind-the-scenes featurette: you might think that in a movie starring The Rock, The Rock would be the one who ended up having the most stunts, right? Incorrect! It turns out Karen Gillan ended up with the most stunt work in the film, and nailed it all. You go, girl.

There's also a shockingly unfunny gag reel here. Gag reels can either be hilarious or a waste of time, and sadly, the one here falls in the latter category. It's the type of gag reel that consists of characters accidentally overstepping their marks; it's a bit of a bummer.

The real draw of this Blu-ray is the film itself, which is shockingly entertaining.

Special Features Include:

  • Gag Reel
  • "Jumanji, Jumanji" Music Video by Jack Black and Nick Jonas
  • Five Featurettes:
  • "Journey Through The Jungle: The Making of Jumanji"
  • "Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast"
  • "Attack of the Rhinos!"
  • "Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts!"
  • "Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating The Legacy of Jumanji"

The Shape of Water

There's been a bit of a backlash against Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water ever since it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Nuts to that, I say. This film is an utter delight – a weird, gorgeous celebration of otherness. A monster movie, a romance, a period piece, a borderline musical, and so much more. Simply put, I adore this film.

Sally Hawkins is a mute custodian in the early 1960s. She works at a top secret government facility, and soon befriends – and falls in love with – a humanoid river monster that looks like a super sexy version of the Creature of the Black Lagoon. One of The Shape of Water's strengths is the way it plays the romance between Hawkins and the Fish Man (played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones) perfectly straight. There's never a moment where a side character comments on how strange it is that Hawkins is having a romantic affair with a river creature. It's just accepted as-is. It's wonderful.

Every character in The Shape of Water has an arc –  Hawkins' co-worker, played by Octavia Spencer; Hawkins' neighbor, played by Richard Jenkins; the film's antagonist, played by Michael Shannon; a secret Russian spy, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. In a lesser film, most of these characters would recede into the background. But del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor find ways to give all of them moments in the spotlight.

The Shape of Water may very well be Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece. As I said in my theatrical review, "The Shape of Water unfolds with a dreamy grace, full of moments that will have you uttering blissful sighs of content. Alexandre Desplat's score is lush and romantic, perfectly underscoring the film's tone, and the cinematography courtesy of Dan Laustsen recalls the look of films from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Del Toro creates one gorgeous moment after the next, including a show-stopping scene that turns into something out of a classic musical. It's the type of thing only del Toro could create."

Special Features To Note:

First thing's first: I want to say it's utter bullshit that this Blu-ray doesn't come with a Guillermo del Toro commentary track. Anyone who has listened to one of del Toro's commentary tracks for his other films can confirm that they're always wonderful, without question. Guillermo del Toro is a filmmaker with a world of film knowledge rattling around his brain, and his commentary tracks are like mini film schools, where he covers nearly ever facet of the production. The Shape of Water is a dream project of del Toro's, so I assumed he'd be providing a commentary track for the Blu-ray. Alas, it's not to be.

What we do get, however, are a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and crew talking about all the work that went into crafting the film. Here, del Toro talks about being inspired by Beauty and the Beast, and discusses how the three main characters – Hawkins, Spencer and Jenkins – are really supposed to be the same character. "They're invisible people," del Toro says. He also talks about how in a  "normal" movie, Michael Shannon's would be the hero, fighting the monster.

Beyond this, there's a segment devoted to the creation of the film's Fish Man, and how much work went into making the character look, well, sexy. "He's handsome in a fish-like way," says Doug Jones. Other features include two different "Anatomy of a Scene" sequences, that show how two specific scenes were created. There's also a "Guillermo del Toro Master Class", where del Toro and the cast take questions from an audience at a screening.

All of this is fine, but I still can't get over the fact that there's no commentary track. Maybe one day the Criterion Collection will talk del Toro into doing it. For now, we'll have to be content with what we have.

Special Features Include:

  • A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue
  • Anatomy of a Scene: The Dance
  • Shaping the Waves: A Conversation with James Jean
  • Guillermo del Toro's Master Class
  • Theatrical Trailers